Dementia doesn’t care who you love

Riomaggiore Di and Pam Pic - LGBT couple
Pam Allen-Thompson (R) and Di Allen-Thompson on a 2016 trip to Italy

 

Reflecting on Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and The Longest Day in June, we are in awe of how much love people poured into our cause to end Alzheimer’s. In fact, The Longest Day was all about doing something you love in honor of someone you love with dementia, and there are still several activities in July that allow you to show you care. Coincidentally,  June also was LGBT Pride month, when people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community celebrated their progress toward equality in civil rights. Yet, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are equal opportunity diseases that affect everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, political affiliation or who you love.

di and pam 1993 toledo
Pam and Di in 1983

That’s a reality that Rev. Dr. Pam Allen-Thompson and her wife Di Allen-Thompson are facing together as a married couple who have been together over 25 years. Pam has dementia and Di is her caregiver. Pam was diagnosed with early stage dementia in 2013. She and Di realized two years later that she would need to take early retirement as it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to keep up with her work as a minister. Di is a retired counselor/social worker, so she is well aware of the challenges they both will face with the disease as time goes by – a journey that is already under way. As a part of their journey, they have previously participated in our chapter Early-Stage Support Group. Their approach to what lies ahead is to take one day at a time and live each moment to the fullest with all the capacity they possess.

The Alzheimer’s Association works to provide culturally sensitive and competent care for LGBT people, just as we strive to do for people of every culture. We recognize that older LGBT people may face unique and challenging situations as they seek services and living communities due to stigma that remains toward people of varying sexual orientations, gender identities and same-sex relationships.

Our chapter sometimes collaborates locally with Rainbow Elder Care of Greater Dayton, and the Association has a national relationship with SAGE USA. Rainbow Elder Care works in the Dayton area to educate area senior service providers about culturally competent care/service for older LGBT adults. Its mission is to provide advocacy, educational resources, support and referral services to the elder LGBT community and straight allies in the Greater Dayton Ohio area in ways that affirmatively address their unique needs and enhance their quality of life. SAGE USA is a national organization based in New York and with affiliates in major cities. Their mission is to address issues related to LGBT aging. In partnership with its constituents and allies, SAGE works to achieve a high quality of life for LGBT older adults, supports and advocates for their rights, fosters a greater understanding of aging in all communities, and promotes positive images of LGBT life in later years.

“While dementia has been an unwelcome intrusion into our lives, both Pam and I know that the best thing for us is to stay in tune with life, creative activities, and our gifts of humor,” Di says. The years will demand more tests and trials, but both are making steps to manage what comes their way with thanksgiving for the offerings of life.

Since Pam’s diagnosis, they have traveled  near and far. In addition to caring for each other and their home in the Dayton area, they also own a home for Di’s son who is an adult with developmental disabilities. They spend much of their time making sure his environment is comfortable, safe and appealing. Both are also very much occupied with family, and Pam remains involved in church. Di explains, “As a same-sex couple, we have met and conquered many challenges over the years, and today we face dementia together with a sense of resolve.”

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